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Obama 'must press Aquino on rights'

The time of excuses and promises over military misdeeds is over, HRW says

  • by ucanews.com reporter, Manila
  • Philippines
  • June 8, 2012
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Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged US President Barack Obama to pressure President Benigno Aquino into addressing abuses allegedly committed by the military.

Aquino, who is on an official visit to the United States, was due to meet Obama later today at the White House.

The Philippines security forces have been implicated in hundreds of cases of extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances since 2001, according to the New York-based rights watchdog. Victims have included leftist activists, journalists, alleged insurgents, environmentalists and clergy.

“Obama needs to speak frankly with Aquino about addressing the Philippine security forces’ abusive record,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at HRW.

“Accountability for abuses is not only a matter of justice for victims, but vital for the Philippines’ future as a rights-respecting democracy.”

Planned US military expansion in Asia should not deter Obama from raising human rights concerns with the Philippine leader, the group said.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last week emphasized the need for a strong naval presence in Asia, prior to a recent visit to the region.

The US military has been conducting regular joint military exercises with the Philippines armed forces in the southern Philippines since 2002.

Recent tensions between the Philippines and China over resource-rich island territories in the South China Sea have also underscored Manila’s need for a close military relationship with the US.

However, since 2008, the US Congress has withheld $2 to $3 million each year in assistance to the Philippines because of the alleged abuses.

“Rather than arguing, making promises and offering excuses, President Aquino should focus on ending and prosecuting extrajudicial executions,” Sifton said.

A major concern is the Philippine government’s failure to arrest fugitive former general Jovito Palparan, who is facing charges for the abduction and enforced disappearance of two student activists in 2006. Numerous other human rights cases also remained unresolved.

In the last decade, only seven cases of extrajudicial killings, involving 11 defendants, have been successfully prosecuted – none since Aquino took power and none involving active duty military personnel, HRW noted.

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